May 8, 2012

TORCHE'S HARMONICRAFT: ROCK FOR LIGHT

By Andy O'Connor (TX)

Forget what the optimism evangelists preach from their digital pulpits. There are times in your life when it's perfectly fine to be a sad bastard. Your beloved pet passed away, your partner left you, somebody outbid you on that copy of Deathcrush on Ebay, whatever. Shut the blinds, throw your phone in the trash, deactivate your social networking accounts, chug as much Franzia as your fortitude will allow, and crank a morose mixtape of Red House Painters, Esoteric, and The Cure. Eventually, though, you gotta get out into the sun, indulge in decadent food and drink, meet up with old friends, gain new ones, and make the world yours again.

Torche's latest album, Harmonicraft, is the “2012 is our year!” soundtrack we've been waiting for. It's also the true follow up to Meanderthal. Not to slag on Songs for Singles, as all the songs there were prime Torche (and that includes the bummerific “Face the Wall”), but it was too little of a good thing. And they can't get away with the ol' Gridlink 12-minute-LP trick, even if Decibel wouldn't agree with me. With this record, however, they're taking on listeners with a full arsenal of summery bangers.


Photo Credit: Gary Copeland

While Harmonicraft is the the first release on Torche's new label, Volcom Entertainment, and also the first to feature new guitarist Andrew Elstner, their sound is still the same as it was during the Hydra Head-and-Juan-Montoya days. There is, however, an added sense of urgency unmatched in their other works. As I noted in my review of Torche in Denver last year, and Floor's Chicago 2010 show, vocalist and guitarist Steve Brooks has embraced his inner glam-metal frontman. He considers David Lee Roth, the rock and roll showman to end all rock and roll showmen, as one of his idols during a recent interview with Pitchfork. While “Kicking” and “Walk It Off” reverberate the band's expertise in pillaging with glee, “Kiss Me Dudely” is the best example of Torche getting all cock-rock on us. It's as if Van Halen embraced the simplicity of The Stooges – there's still a little bombast to push things over the edge, but at the heart of it, the song is a straight-ahead expression of pure joy and energy. The title is also both cheeky and sincere, and only a band like Torche, who can rock positive without coming off as ironic or self-righteous, could pull it off. If there's a metal club banger of the year, it's “Dudely” above and beyond.

Of course, Torche knows that love requires a little slow simmering too. Most of the songs over three minutes are essentially stretched-out alterations of the lightning fast tracks. Melodicism is still important, and when brought to a crawl, it comes through even more. “Solitary Traveler” serves as a condensed version of “Wall” in that it's the most "downer" song on the record. Despite this, it does not impede the flow of the work as a whole. As with all of their records, Torche end with a jam-doom number, Harmonicraft's being “Looking On.” By now, you're probably coming off the sugar high that the rest of the album pushes, so you're fine with chilling out and drifting off into proverbial space.

No talk of Harmonicraft should leave out the cover art that evokes any emotion but indifference. Rainbows are not a new motif for Torche, as evidenced on the cover of their self-titled record, but they really pulsate here. Most noteworthy is the rainbow being used a weapon against dark clouds. Those dark beasts being thwarted could be symbolic of internet trolls, self-serious peers, and other folks who can't handle the fact Brooks whips the tongue with a vengeance at live shows. The cover is not what you would expect from a heavy record, but everything you would expect from Torche, and that's the beauty of it. Can you think of a more fitting band to have raining candy on their cover?

Yeah, it's already May. Some of those resolutions you made on December 31, 2011, may not be fulfilled. But you know what? There's still a little under seven months of 2012 left. Need to get that progressive post-witchhouse project off the ground? Want to start getting into shape so you can throw down when Trash Talk rolls around? Thinking of asking your cute neighbor out on a dinner-and-death-metal-show date? Jam Harmonicraft as a riff-filled pep talk. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

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